by Dave Freer
>To quote from the article Amanda mentioned yesterday…
‘Turow began with authors’ fears about piracy and lower income: 25% of net in “e” is less than a traditional 15% royalty. Newberg made her first point: “What are publishers doing to justify not giving authors 50%[*note]?”
Miller countered that “terms differ from publisher to publisher”. Newberg shot back, “some terms are much better than others and we’ll have to go public and some of you will look bad”.’
Now, expressly stating that I am not implying in any way the people reported are paedophiles or anything like that… but am I alone in having the vile little image of some creepy individual saying ‘It has to be our little secret. If I tell anyone you’ll be in _trouble_.’?
Let’s just clarify something: there is NO ADVANTAGE that I can see for writers _or_ readers in secrecy about what writers earn or royalty percentages or numbers sold. It all needs daylight, openness and not threats and secrecy. It’s NOT 15% – that’s BEST rate offered on hardbacks – Most midlisters won’t see that and few NYT best-sellers will average that.
Here are typical rates: newbie paperback 6% of cover price (up 100 000 copies hahahahaaaaa, and then increasing 8%) (and 4000-6000 copies would be what you might sell, unless there had for some reason been a mighty large laydown, with a lot of copies in a lot of stores. This is not something that the writer has any control over. In 1970, apparently that figure would have been… about 40 000 copies. Yes. Newbie income has been decimated.)
midlist PB 8%
Hardbacks start 10% for first 5K, 12.5% 5-10K, 15% 10K+. And 17K can see you on the NYT best-seller list.
Yes, some authors do sell a LOT of books. But the reality is that’s only 5%… of the best-sellers – or perhaps 0.5% of the authors not in small press. Include small press and you can make that 0.001%
I’m a great believer in Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiment. Society’s mirror – which lets other people see our conduct and pass approval (which is sweet to us) or disapproval (which makes us, a social animal, uncomfortable) – works. We also base our valuation of people to society on how much they are approved of. With society becoming larger and more amorphous this is often measured by the rewards that society gives to individuals (one of the reasons for the display of wealth and symbols thereof). Given the above, can anyone tell this dumb bunny here why secrecy might be of any benefit to either authors or readers?
If we love and respect an author we are pleased if they are well rewarded. I certainly don’t have a problem hearing that Terry Pratchett is rich. I am, au contraire, delighted.
Or perhaps it fulfils a need to pretend that we’re approved of — whereas if society knew we were earning $4000 as an advance (quite typical for a newbie) for a book that took us a year to write, well, that says society doesn’t value us much. Perhaps if you’re into self-deception this works for you. I really don’t think this is a major reason OR reflects in any real way what society thinks the author is worth.
So what does that leave? Well, I suppose authors who are overpaid (and yes, they exist – industry darlings who get enormous advances they never get near to earning) wouldn’t like it much, and neither would those who overpaid them. But, pardon my insensitivity, I (and 99.9% of readers and authors) really couldn’t give a toss about their inadequacy being exposed. I fail to see why it benefits the rest of the authors or readers.
The only other reason I can see is that if it was public knowledge, the next publisher would have no incentive to offer a better deal. On the other hand if everyone’s deals and sales numbers were public knowledge… well, that becomes irrelevant.
Of course I am avoiding mentioning the three elephants in the room. Because they like to stomp authors who hold ‘our little secret’ up to society’s mirror.
I’ve just got the bill for my 3 cats and 3 dogs month in quarantine – $7000. – 6 animals one month – average it out about $35 a day…
Which when I look at the $7500 advance that I will get for the current book (I contracted this a while ago and I am a co-author and only getting a share of the money. My advances now are higher, but still around 50 cents a copy I sell (Hardcover+pb + e-sales I find the final figure averages around $1 per copy sold – and that’s because I get a reasonable e %. People do worse) And I always earn – and Baen pay – royalties) and the time it has taken me to write it (which is long for me, but normal for many) … that’s $35 a day. Based on the previous books this will sell, eventually, about 30-35 000 copies, and I will earn a little extra. But for now… that’s it.
Or if I take my yearly income and divide it by hours worked $6.00-$9.00 an hour. I earn enough to scrape along on by working a LOT of hours.
So there we are, society.
For this book this author is worth the same as dog-kennelling for one by that measure. Or about 5 paperbacks (in the US), or 1.3 hardbacks a day.
Is this realistic?
Does something have to re-adjust? Is it the amount books cost, the amount e-books will sell for, the transparency of the system, or…
Is this what we value our authors at? 6% of cover price? (because they also have expenses, like… dogfood. You can’t say that is all profit, any more than the other 94% is all profit) What do we value the rest of the process at? Given the distribution of the money, what can be cut? More of that 6%?
Are we prepared to have very, very few full time authors and the rest with second jobs or supported by partners (which both are not good for my writing, to be blunt)?
Do we want new authors fed into the system? (Because that costs, and will need to be subsidised by something. Or we have to be prepared to place near zero value on them.)
Do we readers want to choose what we like and that to finally decide what becomes a best-seller, rather than have someone who takes marketing and distribution decisions decide what we might like and can be allowed to choose from?
What do you think?
Who ate all the pies?
[* 50% in this case refers to of the publisher’s net. Which translates 50% of the profit after the publisher takes their costs and expenses out. The author does not get 50% of the net. His gross is 50% of the publisher’s free and clear pure profit – out of which he has to pay his agent, taxes, expenses. What’s left (if anything) is his share of the profit. If you want real 50% then the author would have to add his expenses in too, and the remainder would be equally split. Oddly, I don’t think this will happen ;-)]